Tag Archives: Arizona

real earth-friendly craft: making accessories from recycled tees

Photo courtesy of Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimee Lowry.

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, reuse outgrown or even stained T-shirts to create colorful recycled necklaces, bracelets, headbands and more. In just minutes you and your kids can transform old tees into colorful and fun accessories—recycling has never been this stylish! Most T-shirts are made from stretchy knit fabric that does not fray, which makes it perfect for cutting up.

SUPPLIES: old T-shirts, scissors

INSTRUCTIONS: Gather a handful of old tees, particularly ones in bright colors.

Spread your T-shirt on a flat surface, and find the longest area of your shirt. (For most shirts this will be from the shoulder line to the waistline.)

Using sharp scissors, cut strips of fabric (about 1/2” to 1” wide) down the longest length of your shirt. This will create ribbon-like strips. Your cuts do not need to be perfectly straight, as braided jewelry is very forgiving. If you’re using small shirts, you may wish to cut along the bottom waistline, through both the front and back of the shirt at the same time. When you’re finished you’ll have a fabric loop that can be used as is or cut at the seam to make a flat strip.

Take three strips and knot together on one end, then braid through the length. It works best if you pull tightly, stretching out the fabric as you braid.

Once braiding is complete, cut to your desired length. Tie ends together to create a braided circle. Wear as desired.

You can also use these knit strips unbraided to make bracelets and headbands or to tie on a gift-wrapped package instead of ribbon.

Monthly “Real Crafts” are created just for RAK by Bettijo B. Hirschi & Aimée Lowry, the Arizona moms behind the family-style blog Paging Supermom. For more ideas visit pagingsupermom.com.


Bike helmets: Thinking past the driveway

Photo by Daniel Friedman.

By Vicki Louk Balint

Sixth grader Cathy Horning, 12, of Mesa, rides her bike to Ida Redbird Elementary School in Mesa, and home again, every day. She wears a helmet that fits her perfectly.

But she says she’s one of only two kids at her elementary school who does.

“The kids make fun of me like crazy,” she explains. “They say they’re too popular to wear helmets.”

Every three days a child in the United States is killed while riding a bicycle, according to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health. Every single day, 100 children are treated in emergency rooms for bicycle-related head injuries.

Pediatric Trauma Coordinator Jim Boise, R.N., CFRN, of Maricopa Medical Center, says that bicycle accidents and/or bicycle accidents involving an automobile account for roughly 10 percent of pediatric trauma cases at MMC. According to the Maricopa County Safe Kids Coalition, head injury is the leading cause of death in bicycle crashes and is the most important determinant of death and permanent disability. Proper helmet use reduces the risk of brain injury by about 90 percent.

Priscilla Horning, Cathy’s mom, can’t figure out why kids would tease her daughter for making the decision to protect her brain. But they do.

Priscilla says her family has a particularly heightened awareness of brain injuries. In the days before helmets were available, an older sibling of Cathy’s fell from a bike and hit her head, breaking her arm and two front teeth and sustaining a concussion. And because Priscilla’s brother survived brain cancer and now runs support groups for victims of brain injury, he’s inundated with information on what happens when kids get hurt.

“He deals with hundreds of people who have survived a bike, motorcycle or car accident, not just those with brain cancer,” says Priscilla. “It’s amazing what you learn.”

For the Hornings, bike helmet use as a health behavior is a given. But for other families, experts say, the tension of making a fashion statement or being “cool” often overrides the safety factor, especially among older kids. Parents who participated in the C.S. Mott poll say that the other barriers to helmet use include the cost, along with the fact that their kids “simply don’t like wearing one.”

David I. Rosenberg, M.D., has spent 25 years on the front lines, taking care of young patients soon after injuries first occur. As a pediatric critical care physician at the Arizona Children’s Center at MMC, Rosenberg sees the outcome of bicycle, all-terrain and other wheeled recreational vehicle accidents when young patients are admitted to the emergency department.

“Generally speaking, the ones who have the worst injuries weren’t using the proper safety devices,” he says. “Being on this end, to see children who come in dead, or with bad neurological injuries who will never be the same…it’s very frustrating as a pediatrician to have kids suffer life-altering trauma that could have been prevented.”

Although the most serious bicycle accidents often involve an automobile, children can sustain critical or even fatal head injuries simply by falling off a bike and hitting a vulnerable area of the skull—just over the ear or just above the spinal cord, for example. “It can be a minor fall,” says Rosenberg, “but a very serious injury.”

Bike helmets protect the head with a strong Styrofoam lining and an outer coating of polycarbon that absorbs a significant portion of the impact so that it is not transmitted to the brain.

Estimates from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that if all kids between the ages of 4 and 15 used a helmet whenever they rode a bike, 40,000 head injuries and about 50,000 scalp and facial injuries could be prevented every year. Helmet use is higher in states where helmet laws exist, according to the C.S. Mott poll; yet only 21 states have them. Arizona does not.

A helmet law would certainly reduce the number of children who are hurt or killed, says injury prevention specialist Tracey Fejt, R.N., but it shouldn’t take a law. “Parents should know that kids can die,” she says. “It’s head injuries we’re talking about. When we’re talking about bikes, scooters, skateboards, roller blades and roller skates, head injury is the number one injury. And we can’t fix your brain. Once it’s injured, it’s injured.”

Fejt organizes outreach programs through her work at Cardon Children’s Medical Center in Mesa, visiting classrooms monthly to educate children on safety issues and prevention. As part of a partnership that incorporates this safety information into the curriculum, schools agree to call themselves “helmet-required schools” and Cardon Children’s provides all students with helmets—free of charge.

Does it work?

When Fejt began working with schools in 2008 with assistance from the Arizona Department of Transportation’s Safe Routes to School program, the percentage of kids using helmets was very low. “I had maybe a one percent rate of kids wearing helmets. And now we’re at 70. Am I going to reach everyone? Probably not. You’re going to always have those kids who think they’re 10 feet tall and bullet proof and don’t need helmets. But a lot of kids there wouldn’t have been in helmets if I hadn’t been here.”

Cathy Horning has been brainstorming ways to increase the number of kids at her school who wear bike helmets. Among her ideas: working with the student council to do a fundraiser to buy and decorate helmets, talking to her principal about a helmet rule for the school, maybe convincing just one or two popular kids to wear helmets in hopes they’d start a trend. “It’s really important to the school and to Arizona,” she says. “I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Priscilla is proud of her youngest daughter; she only wishes that parents would see the issue with the same clarity and concern as Cathy does. “People really don’t think past the driveway,” she says. “It is fun to have the wind blow in your hair—but it’s not worth it. If you hit a crack or dip in the road or try to avoid a car and you fall and hit your head on the curb, it could be the last thing you ever do.”

The history of Little League in Arizona

Tommy Bullington pitches during tryouts at Arcadia Little League. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

By Mary L. Holden

Thanks to a man named Bill Vallely, Little League has been played for 62 of the 100 years that Arizona has been a state.

Born in Albuquerque in 1927, Vallely lied about his age so he could be drafted during World War II. While in the Navy he met a fellow sailor who told him about Little League, which had its beginnings in Williamsport, Pa. in 1938. After the war, Vallely moved to Prescott with the dream of starting Little League teams in Arizona.

He chartered the first official league in 1950 and volunteered thousands of hours to the organization. He coached his kids and grandkids for 42 years and helped a few players who fulfilled their early promise by going on to careers in professional baseball. In all, he started 17 Little League organizations. Before he died in 2004, he attended a dedication ceremony for the Prescott ball fields that were named for him in 1998.

This photo originally was published in Prescott's The Daily Courier. The caption reads: "On April 14, 2002, Bill Vallely attended opening ceremonies for that year's Prescott Little League season. It was a tradition he started--and kept--from 1950 through 2003."

Vallely was an icon. He was known to be intimidating as a coach but underneath a leathery exterior his heart was bigger than center field. His philosophy was that every child should have a chance to play and participate in the game: to swing a bat, field a ball and experience success and failure individually and as a team. Every member of the team got a chance to get in the game—Vallely was blind to talent. He believed in every child who wanted to hit, catch, run and throw, even if their only strength was desire.

Vallely’s son Bill, of Prescott Valley, remembers being on a team his dad coached. “He was a great coach and a big inspiration to the kids, but I found out about it years later, when people told me stories of things he did behind the scenes to help them. Several told me about how my dad bought them their first glove or arranged for them to get the right shoes or a uniform. His passion was teaching kids about teamwork and about life.”

Generations of kids have filed through the ranks of Little League every spring and summer in Arizona. In the early days it was for boys only, starting with Tee Ball as early as age 4 and ending in the Senior League before age 16. Little League softball for girls was officially added in 1974, which was also the first year that girls were allowed to play on boys’ Little League baseball teams.

Since Arizona achieved statehood in 1912, a total of 89 Arizona natives have had careers in professional baseball. Thirteen of them were born before Little League existed. That means that 76 Arizona-born major leaguers benefitted from the option of playing Little League baseball.

One of Coach Vallely’s players became well known. Prescott native John Denny played on Vallely’s teams starting in 1960. In 1983, as a pitcher for the Philadelphia Phillies, he won the Cy Young award.

A plaque at Bill Vallely Fields in Prescott reads: “Play hard and play to win, but never win at a child’s expense.”

Jason Himelstein shows Ruben Drotzmann (13) of Phoenix how to correctly hold a baseball. Photo by Daniel Friedman. Location: Madison Meadows field.

Vallely’s philosophy is shared by Jason K. Himelstein of Phoenix, who recalls playing Little League at Madison Meadows School from 1960 to 1966. At that time, he says, it was still possible to spend the season on the bench if a coach only cared about winning.

“It wasn’t right, but back then, Little League was the hub of our social world. Everyone went to the ballpark every night. I remember that we would play baseball all day then go home, eat dinner and put on our uniforms. On nights when we weren’t playing we were watching our buddies play. The fields were manicured, the grass was green and even the dirt smelled good. The whole thing was like being in heaven.”

Himelstein went on to play baseball at Phoenix College and the University of Hawaii, then spent two years in the rookie leagues before working as a hitting instructor in the major leagues. He coached Little League in the late 1970s and from 1980 to 1992 with the Madison leagues.

“The definition of winning,” he says, “is when you can get all 12 kids to play as hard as they can for the six innings and then not care about the final score. The first obligation of a coach is safety; the second is to be fair. Little League should be fun for them!”

Himelstein recently spent half an hour in an inpromptu coaching session with Ruben Drotzmann, 13, of Phoenix, who was playing catch with his dad before practice on a Madison Meadows field. Himelstein, who was there for a photo shoot, noticed Ruben holding the ball incorrectly, so he showed the teenager how to align his fingers properly with the seam of the ball. Then he offered some tips on swing and grounder techniques, all the while regaling Ruben and his dad, Tom, about his time playing ball in college, the rookie leagues and coaching in the majors.

At one point, he showed Ruben the way major leaguers fold their caps so they retain their shape—even after being shoved into a glove or a back pocket.

Himelstein chatted up several other kids and parents who were meandering in to various practices and games before sharing a note from the parents of a player he had coached. They said how grateful they were that Himelstein had been a coach and role model for their son, who was later murdered.

That kind of connection—the ability to influence a young life—is what Himelstein sought when he began coaching. It’s something he didn’t get in his own family, but he got it from Little League. And for that, he can thank Bill Vallely.

Mary L. Holden, of Phoenix, is the mother of two grown children, John and Annie. Daniel Friedman contributed to this article.


For more information on Little League, visit http://www.littleleague.org.

For more information about finding a Little League team in Arizona, visit eteamz.com/azstatell.

How Arizona is helping new moms meet breastfeeding goals

Moms at the breastfeeding support group at Cardon Children's Medical Center listen to advice and instruction about feeding schedules and issues surrounding breastfeeding.

In Michaela Zach’s imagination, breastfeeding her newborn son for the first time would be no less than glorious. “I felt like the heavens were going to open and the angels would sing and it would be this wonderful thing.”
But that wasn’t how it went at all.

Getting her baby to “latch” correctly took patience and time; that threw her a learning curve she hadn’t expected. “It was a few weeks of ‘I hate this, why am I doing this?’” says Zach. “But I was committed. Once he got it—and I got it—it became second nature.”

The entire birth experience changed her life. She ultimately became a certified lactation educator as well as a Lamaze childbirth educator and certified labor doula, practicing with Southwest Perinatal Education Services.

Whether or not a new mother and her baby “get it” depends on a few factors. One key predictor of long-term success for breastfeeding is what happens in those precious hours after birth, says Anne Whitmire, IBCLC, RLC, who is breastfeeding coordinator for the Arizona Department of Health Services. “Breastfeeding has a short window. If moms don’t take advantage of that while their milk is available…if they go to formula too soon, they lose out.”

Meeting personal breastfeeding goals hinges on a number of factors, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For many women, there are barriers along the way. Though 75 percent of U.S. babies start out breastfeeding, the CDC says only 13 percent are exclusively breastfed at the end of six months. The rates are particularly low among African-American infants.

Catherine Warren, RN, IBCLC, a lactation consultant for Paradise Valley Hospital, says those first days can be daunting. Breastfeeding knowledge isn’t always passed from mother to daughter as it was in past generations; some new mothers may never have seen anyone breastfeed. “They worry about starving their babies,” says Warren. “Without education, they don’t have the confidence.”

Whitmire, who has worked as a lactation consultant for six years and in public health for 20 years, examined evidence-based predictors of what works best when helping new mothers meet their breastfeeding goals. She and her team then built a set of policy guidelines for hospitals and birthing centers to make sure that new moms had all the support they needed to be successful.

“What drew me in,” she says, “was the number of women who mourned losing their breastfeeding experience.”

The result was Arizona Baby Steps to Breastfeeding Success, a roadmap for hospitals and birthing centers. Funded in part by the CDC, the voluntary program was offered to hospitals in Arizona and implemented early in the summer of 2010.

“We found the evidence, we did the training, we helped with policies and provided resources to get this done efficiently,” says Whitmire, who did the grant writing for the project.

Baby Steps is based on the Baby-Friendly Hospital criteria established by UNICEF and the World Health Organization. The “Baby-Friendly” credential requires a hospital to meet additional goals over and above what the Baby Steps program requires.

There are more than 125 Baby-Friendly Hospital sites throughout the United States, but none yet in Arizona. Whitmire hopes that hospitals and birthing centers around the state that embrace the Baby Steps requirements will continue to work toward becoming Baby-Friendly facilities.

Meeting the Baby Steps requirements takes a commitment of resources from hospitals, says Whitmire. It’s not easy. Training must be provided for all staff members who work with moms and babies to make sure everyone is on the same page. Breastfeeding must be initiated within one hour of birth, no pacifiers or other artificial nipples can be used and “rooming in” for moms and babies is highly encouraged so moms will begin to notice an infant’s hunger cues early in the relationship.

Because Baby Steps requirements change the way formula is to be used—only when medically necessary—many hospitals that buy in to the program have shifted their relationships with the baby formula industry, ending a long-time practice of distributing industry-sponsored free formula in the traditional new-parent discharge bags. “It is more about using formula as a medicine,” says Whitmire, “rather than a marketing tool.”

The Baby Steps program creates an opportunity for nurses to have conversations with new mothers about the many evidence-based benefits of breastfeeding so they will be able to make an informed choice about how to feed their babies.

“I love interacting at the bedside, especially for new moms,” says Debi Hill, RNC, IBCLC, RLC, a lactation consultant for Banner Ironwood Medical Center in the San Tan Valley, which is participating in the program. “They are so hungry to learn what is best for their baby.”

Whitmire says no one is pushing breastfeeding on anyone; the best feeding decision is what works for a woman and her family. But the evidence is clear—breastfeeding offers many health benefits when compared to alternatives.

“It’s not like formula is to breast milk as Coke is to Pepsi,” she says. Experts agree that breastfeeding protects against illnesses like diarrhea, ear infections and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are less likely to become obese, develop asthma or die of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The list goes on. In fact, breastfeeding as a long-term benefit continues to be studied and likely provides benefits yet to be discovered.

Women stand to gain health benefits, too. Research shows a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancers among mothers who breastfeed.

“The gold standard is breast milk for babies,” says Hill. “They’ve nourished their baby for nine months, it just makes sense that they would continue to nourish their babies with their bodies. It is not to stop when the baby is born. We’re not saying that formula is horrible, but babies are hardwired to breastfeed. When they come out, they are expecting a breast. That is in their makeup.”

And there’s a public health advantage. A recent study estimated that the United States would save $13 billion per year in health care and other costs if 90 percent of U.S. babies were exclusively breastfed for six months. Because of new evidence that shows these kinds of advantages to society, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin announced a “Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding.” That report identifies ways that families, communities, employers and health care professionals can improve breastfeeding rates and increase support for breastfeeding.

As of December 2011, 25 Arizona hospitals have agreed to participate in the Baby Steps program, which has far exceeded Whitmire’s expectations. “We presented this idea to the hospitals, but the hospitals have really taken off with it. We are astounded every day at how they have taken it above and beyond.”

The experience that Michaela Zach had with her firstborn, now a freshman in college, inspired her to support new mothers in her role as an educator, no matter what their choice might be. “However you choose to feed your baby can be a challenge,” she says. “But a woman should be educated and that information should come from reliable sources.”

Baby-Friendly requirements

To achieve the Baby-Friendly Designation, facilities must register with Baby-Friendly USA, complete the all of the requirements and ultimately demonstrate during an on-site assessment that they have correctly integrated all of the “Ten Steps To Successful Breastfeeding” [as outlined by UNICEF/WHO] into their practice for healthy newborns.

1. Have a written breastfeeding policy that is routinely communicated to all health care staff.
2. Train all health care staff in skills necessary to implement this policy.
3. Inform all pregnant women about the benefits and management of breastfeeding.
4. Help mothers initiate breastfeeding within one hour of birth.
5. Show mothers how to breastfeed and how to maintain lactation, even if they are separated from their infants.
6. Give newborn infants no food or drink other than breast milk, unless medically indicated.
7. Practice “rooming in”—allow mothers and infants to remain together 24 hours a day.
8. Encourage breastfeeding on demand.
9. Give no pacifiers or artificial nipples to breastfeeding infants.
10. Foster the establishment of breastfeeding support groups and refer mothers to them on discharge from the hospital or clinic

Source: Baby Friendly USA, Inc. (babyfriendlyusa.org)


Lactation consultants are certified by The International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). Other certifications (such as CBC, CLE and CLC) are not regulated by any governing body.

Registered Lactation Consultant (RLC) is the official “title” of a consultant who has passed the IBCLE exam.

International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) is a health care professional who specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. IBCLCs are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners, Inc. IBCLCs work in a wide variety of health care settings, including hospitals, pediatric offices, public health clinics and private practice. They can assess clinical conditions such as mastitis, thrush or nipple inversion.

RNC is a registered nurse who is certified in a particular area.

CLE is a certified lactation educator who can teach and consult on breastfeeding/lactation issues but does not diagnose a physical condition.

Doula: From the Greek, meaning “a woman who serves.” According to DONA International (dona.org), a doula is a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.

Running for the school board

By Lynn Trimble • Photo by Daniel Friedman

Rick Fields of Glendale, Barb Mozdzen of Chandler and Pam Kirby of Paradise Valley.

Though Barb Mozdzen of Chandler and her children attended public schools, she “hadn’t given a lot of thought to the institution of public education” before running for a seat on her local school board. Mozdzen decided to run after talking with a neighbor about her 12 years of school board service. Now the mother of two young adult daughters and a son who is a college freshman, she serves as president of the governing board for the Chandler Unified School District.

Pam Kirby of Paradise Valley decided to run after several years of being a parent volunteer and assuming larger leadership roles each year. “I believe every child deserves a quality education and I wanted to volunteer my skill sets in pursuit of that goal,” says Kirby, who has a background in “finance, process improvement and change management.” Kirby serves on the governing board for the Scottsdale Unified School District and has three daughters who attended SUSD schools.

Rick Fields of Glendale decided to run because he felt that his experience as a volunteer and substitute teacher made him “knowledgeable about the needs of students and teachers alike” and that his business background gave him insight on “how to implement business practices” within a school district. Fields serves on the governing board for the Glendale Union High School District. He has a grown son and daughter who graduated from Sunnyslope High School.

All three agree that anyone considering a running for a school board position should get involved with their local schools and district in other ways ahead of time—whether volunteering in the classroom or serving on a budget or growth committee.

Volunteering helps prospective board candidates forge relationships, learn the issues and see the mechanics of how school business is conducted.

Attending school board meetings prior to running for office is important to help you understand board member responsibilities, meeting formats and what is going on in the school district, says Mozdzen.

Still, you don’t have to be an expert in order to run. Initial and ongoing board member training is available through the Arizona School Board Association (azsba.org). School districts also provide orientation and training materials to new board members.

Legally, a school board candidate must be a registered voter who lives within the boundaries of the school district. He or she must have lived in the district for at least one year immediately preceding the day of the election.

Beyond that, a board member should be someone who maintains an open mind and enjoys spending time communicating with taxpayers in their district, says Fields. Good people skills and communication skills are a must. Board members need the ability to work rationally with others, observes Mozdzen.

Candidates shouldn’t expect to sweep in big changes once elected. Individual school board members have no real power, says Mozdzen. “School board members are policy makers, not micromanagers.” Even changes agreed to by several school board members often take time to enact and implement.

“The most important thing to remember is that you are not running for school board to run the district on a day to day basis,” reflects Fields. “The job description is to make policy, guide the budget process and hire or fire a superintendent.”
Before deciding to run, consider whether your own interests, approach and skill sets are a good match with serving on your local school board. Both candidates and board members need the ability to ask questions and listen for understanding, according to Kirby.

You should spend time chatting with constituents about their ideas and concerns. Fields recalls that “walking door to door and meeting people and getting their views was an unexpected benefit” of running for office.

Check with the Arizona School Board Association for details about running for office and serving on a school governing board.

The first step is to pick up an information packet from the county superintendent of schools. If you expect to spend more than $500 campaigning you must register a campaign committee and file campaign finance reports that itemize receipts and expenditures and identify anyone who contributes $25 or more. (If you expect to spend less than $500, you must file an exemption.) Then you must collect signatures in support of your candidacy. The number required varies based on voter registration levels. Once your signature pages are completed and filed with the county superintendent of schools you can run your campaign.

Running for office brings plenty of discouraging moments. Competing candidates aren’t always civil and some resort to tactics like removing others’ yard signs, says Fields. Press and community scrutiny can feel like an invasion of privacy. And once you’re elected, some may view you as the enemy.

“You have to not take things personally,” says Fields.

Once elected, school board members spend about six months to a year “learning the ropes,” says Mozdzen. Expect to spend five to seven days in training during the first year, and to review a lot of reading materials. Mozdzen notes that the Chandler district’s governing board meets every two weeks and that she normally spends six hours of preparation before each meeting.

The time commitment for board members varies week to week, according to Kirby, who says she usually spends about 10 hours a week on board-related business. All agree that there are several commitments outside of school board meetings, such as events with faculty and student graduation ceremonies, which take up additional time. Election is for a four-year term, except for those positions filling a vacancy in office. The position is unpaid though some expenses may be reimbursed.

Despite the challenges, these are exciting times for individuals elected to serve on their local school board.

“Schools are very different than when I was young,” says Mozdzen. In addition to teaching academics, today’s schools are expected to handle things like character education, discipline, citizenship and time management. “We are redefining schools,” says Mozdzen. School board members are an important part of the process.

Scottsdale writer Lynn Trimble is the mother of Christopher, 22, Jennifer, 20, and Lizabeth, 18.

Election timetable

• Governing board elections take place during the general elections (even years). The next election is Tuesday, Nov. 6.
• Signature requirements are based on March 1 voter registration totals.
• Petitions to get your name on the ballot may be filed as early as July 9 (120 days prior to the election) but must be filed no later than 5pm on Aug. 8 (90 days prior to the election).

Source: Hope Olguin, elections specialist, Maricopa County Education Service Agency

A fashionista’s best friend

Katelyn Farver (left) and her mother, Dawn with the Personal Outfit Assistants.

Sometimes mompreneurs invent products to solve problems I didn’t know existed, but then, I’m not a “fashionista.” Dawn Farver of Fountain Hills came up with her idea a couple years ago when her daughter Katelyn (14) asked for help picking out clothes for school. “I went in there and we started laying the clothes on the floor, and that was a huge mess, and it was boring. I thought there must be a better, fun way to do this; better than to lay them on the floor.”

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Respecting individual differences

By Vicki Louk Balint

Daniel B. Kessler, M.D. Photo by Daniel Friedman.

Last year, developmental behavioral pediatrician Daniel B. Kessler, M.D. joined Southwest Human Development to help establish the Children’s Developmental Center. The center offers a team approach to assessing and treating children birth to age 5 who face developmental or behavioral challenges, minimizing the frustration factor for parents seeking answers and support. Kessler talks about medication myths, Internet misinformation and why celebrating individual differences is the key to meeting the needs of any child.

Over the course of your practice, what has changed about how medical professionals, the general public and parents view ADHD, autism and other developmental differences?

The myths were that these kids didn’t exist when their parents were growing up. The worst of the myths is that pharmaceutical companies are inventing these [conditions] to sell their products. These are real, biologically based differences. There is a tremendous and still growing evidence base for them. And they existed before—we just didn’t know what to look for.

Talk about how parents typically begin to realize that they are raising a child with challenges. Where’s the first place they might look for help?

Parents have generally heard from teachers, relatives or neighbors that there are some aspects to their child’s behavior or performance or learning that’s not what it could be or should be. They speak to other people; they go online. The problem with the Internet at this point is that there’s not too little information, there’s too much. Everybody’s an expert, everybody has an opinion, everybody knows what you should do for your child. And much of that intervention is irrelevant or wrong.

What is the most common bit of misinformation that influences families looking for answers?

Well, the biggest myth is about using medication. No family really wants to put their child on medication. You have to have respect for those medications, you need to know what they are capable of and what they’re not, you need to follow that child with any suggestion that you make—is it helping or is it not helping?

How do you begin a conversation about using medication with parents? It can be a big step.

The opportunity to follow kids over a long period of time has allowed me to say to families, “This has been helpful to many kids. It may not be helpful to your child. We’re going to watch your child. But there’s so much good to be had by looking at all the potential medications that are available.” Parents need to be open to the possibilities.

Are we, as a society, getting better at meeting the needs of children with developmental and/or behavioral challenges? Especially at a time of budget cutbacks for services?

We are getting better, absolutely. I think our understanding improves all the time. I think we have to allow the larger society to know that it is not to their advantage to ignore these needs. Not choosing to expend resources would be very shortsighted. We need to support our schools. We need to better equip our teachers to handle the challenges of our children.

You worked with noted pediatrician and author T. Berry Brazelton, M.D. during your residency training. What did you learn?

One of his key teachings is “we’re all individuals.” Babies at birth are all individuals. They have individual differences that we need to learn and respect, and that was the most important lesson I think that I learned early in my career: to accept and understand each person as an individual. We’re not imprints of any of our parents, as I found out with my own kids, thank goodness, and taking that lesson with me has been instrumental in everything I’ve done.

After you completed your medical residency, you moved with your family from New York City to Arizona, looking to best meet the needs of your own children.

We knew it was going to be a long haul raising kids in the middle of New York City. I learned early on that my oldest, my son who is now 27 and incredibly successful as an adult, had some early learning issues. So we had to seek out resources for him. All of that would have been much more difficult in New York. We did locate good schools [here], and supported their needs. Both of my kids were quite different from one another.

What is most satisfying about what you do?

It’s the kids and the families. I decided to be a pediatrician because I thought pediatricians were having the most fun. And as a pediatric resident, to have an opportunity to sit with a family and a child, to interact with that child and family in something more than a seven-minute visit, was the most satisfying. To help them get where they need to go or want to go is unhesitatingly the most satisfying thing, the most rewarding thing that I do.

Phoenix multimedia journalist Vicki Louk Balint produces audio and video stories for Raising Arizona Kids and through her own company, Small Change Productions.


More on working with T. Berry Brazelton, taking a team approach to care and why investing in early childhood intervention pays off down the road. Listen to our full interview with Dr. Kessler.